An ocean wave building to a crest
An ocean wave building to a crest

Navigating Troubled Waters: What to Do When Good Clients Turn Bad

Paul Kiernan

Encountering a situation where a good client turns bad can be disheartening and challenging to navigate.

Has this happened to you? We discussed a client in the morning stand-up today, and the same thing was being said, "What happened with these guys?" A welcoming, easy-going, cooperative, and collaborative client suddenly changed entirely overnight. Now demanding, unreasonable, cagey, and, frankly, out and out lying. This is not the client that we have been working so closely and efficiently with for the past few months. What happened?

And, not only what happened, but how do we proceed from here?

It's not unheard of for a great client to suddenly pull a Jekyll and Hyde routine, and you're left with confusion, and now you're scrambling to satisfy this new version of the client. What do you do? Short of pulling the client in for a full psych workup, you have to roll, figure it out and get it done.

Today, let's look at some ways to appease the suddenly changed client, get them the work they need, and get out without your good name being trashed. Not easy, but you need to know how to handle this type of situation.

Let's dive in.

The Changed Client

In the world of business, having good clients is like striking gold. They are reliable communicative, and often bring in consistent revenue. However, even the most seemingly perfect client relationships can hit rough patches. Whether due to changes in their business, shifts in priorities, or unforeseen circumstances, encountering a situation where a good client turns bad can be disheartening and challenging to navigate. But fear not, as there are steps you can take to address these issues and potentially salvage the relationship. Let's delve into some strategies for handling such scenarios gracefully and professionally.

Assess the Situation

The first step in dealing with a client whose behavior has changed for the worse is objectively assessing the situation. Try to understand the root cause of the problem. Is it a temporary issue, or does it indicate a deeper problem within the client's organization? Are there external factors influencing their behavior? You'll be better equipped to formulate an appropriate response by gaining clarity on the situation.

Communication is Key

Open, honest communication is the cornerstone of any successful client relationship, especially when facing challenges. Schedule a meeting or call with the client to discuss your concerns and listen to their perspective. Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding but also assertiveness. Clearly express how their changed behavior is affecting your ability to deliver results and maintain a positive working relationship.

Realign Expectations

Sometimes, a client's expectations may have shifted without them realizing it, leading to dissatisfaction with your services. Take this opportunity to realign expectations by revisiting the terms of your agreement or contract. Clarify what you can realistically deliver and what the client can expect from you. Setting clear boundaries and mutually agreed-upon goals can help mitigate misunderstandings and restore trust.

A storm over the sea with lightning strikes

Seek a Win-Win Solution

In situations where the client's demands are unreasonable or unsustainable, explore alternative solutions that benefit both parties. This could involve renegotiating the scope of work, adjusting deadlines, or offering additional support within reason. By demonstrating flexibility and a willingness to find common ground, you show your commitment to preserving the relationship while also protecting your interests.

Document Everything

When dealing with a challenging client, it's crucial to document all communications and agreements to protect yourself legally and professionally. Keep records of emails, meeting minutes, and any changes to the project scope or timeline. This documentation can serve as evidence in case of disputes and help ensure accountability on both sides.

Know When to Walk Away

Despite your best efforts, there may come a point where continuing to work with a difficult client is no longer feasible or beneficial. If the client's behavior becomes abusive, unethical, or poses a significant risk to your well-being or reputation, it may be time to terminate the relationship. Trust your instincts and prioritize your mental and emotional health above all else.

Learn from the Experience

Every challenging client encounter is an opportunity for growth and learning. Take the time to reflect on what went wrong and identify any areas where you could have handled the situation differently. Use this knowledge to improve your processes, communication strategies, and client screening methods moving forward. Remember, adversity breeds resilience.

Focus on Building Stronger Relationships

Finally, don't let one bad client experience overshadow the positive relationships you've built with other clients. Invest time and effort in nurturing those relationships and seeking out new opportunities for growth. By focusing on providing exceptional service and fostering trust and loyalty, you'll attract more good clients who appreciate and value your work.

Summing Up

Encountering a situation where a good client turns terrible can be a daunting prospect for any business professional. However, by approaching the issue with patience, empathy, and a proactive mindset, you can often find ways to address the underlying issues and salvage the relationship. Remember to communicate openly, realign expectations, and prioritize your well-being above all else. And don't forget to learn from the experience and use it to strengthen your client management skills moving forward. With the right approach, even the most challenging client relationships can be turned around or gracefully brought to a close, allowing you to focus on building stronger, more rewarding connections in the future.